Scenario: Two long term friends, Dermot Hughes (Mr H) from Belfast, Northern Ireland and Colin Reid of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia spent 9 days birding from Tromso to Kerkenes in northern Norway. We planned and conducted the trip independent of any guides or in-country assistance. We knew the ‘risks’ of missing birds – specifically the Owls – if we chose this course of action, but we were prepared to miss stuff, rather than have it pointed out to us – and pay what appears to be excessive premiums for that (dubious) pleasure. We had moderate success.
Transport: We used Norwegian Air as the cheapest option from Dublin, Ireland to Oslo and then on to Tromso where we parted company. I flew back via Oslo to Dublin, while Mr H and his son, who had joined us in Kerkenes, drove back to Tromso and from there flew home. We hired a car from Europcar - an automatic diesel estate that was comfortable to drive and handled the roads we encountered with relative ease. I did most of the driving as Mr H is the navigation expert and had organised the whole trip – good work (again) Mr H!
The car had a built in sat nav, which was very handy – especially for longer drives across country. For in-close work Mr H preferred Google Maps on his phone, is a lover of old school paper maps and I had an iPad with the free MapsMe app as a backup. We didn’t encounter any problems with navigation – then again, there was not a huge choice of roads and they were all in excellent condition apart from the road from Kerkenes to Ovre Pavsik National Park – that was horrendous!
Accommodation: We camped throughout, apart from the first night in Tromso when we Air BnB’d it as we arrived close to midnight and it was impossible to collect a car at that time. The camping was easy – although the campgrounds a little limited in choice, but we always found somewhere and camped rough in a couple of places, a relatively easy thing to do in Norway.
Internet access: We didn’t worry too much about internet access – apart from our phones and the European system with SIM cards purchased in Ireland worked well, with minimal roaming charges.
Research: Once again Mr H had done most of the research based on trip reports (not many available for this time of year) and on a couple of books he purchased. We used Collins Bird Guide, of course, as the best bird book in the world (in our opinion) and I had the app on my iPhone for calls and ease of use in the field.
Our targets dictated our direction – Lesser White-fronted Goose, Rough-legged Buzzard, Rock Ptarmigan, Hazel Grouse, Eurasian Dotterel, Brunnich’s Guillemot, Snowy Owl, Three-toed Woodpecker, Bluethroat, Red-throated Pipit, Siberian Tit, Arctic Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak and, of course, breeding birds we had seen before such as Long-tailed Skua, Red-necked Phalarope etc. We didn’t get everything, I’ll tell you now, but we did OK for two 60+ birders scratching around with minimal info.
On the road we referred to E-bird for recent reports of specific species. These proved both useful and useless – but, as always, no report is a guarantee of any bird so we accepted all research as such and went with open minds.
A few brief notes on driving in Norway:
1. If you live outside Europe it’s best to take an International Driving Permit. I had one, but never needed to show it, but just in case….
2. The roads were very good. Few major highways where we went, but the lack of traffic and sensible speed limits made movement very easy. Other drivers were, dare I say it, very ‘Scandinavian’ – i.e. tolerant and cautious. I say that with respect – and it did make driving a more relaxed experience than in southern Europe.
3. And you need to drive on the right hand side of the road……..ALL the time.
24 hour light, aka no dark…..
We managed to sleep without any problems despite camping and having no curtains to pull. The hardest thing was trying to decipher when the birds would be most active.
When you think about it – there’s no dawn, as such. No stimulus to get them up and running after a good night’s sleep. No real time when they should roost. This was weird. Not so much for us, personally, but trying to pick when to get up and get at it. We had just a few weeks earlier spent a similar period in Finland so we were kinda ‘used to it’ – but the daylight in northern Norway never went away…….
Day 1 – Sunday 23.6.19
I left the house at 11.45, intending to get the midday Aircoach. Once again, one arrived at the stop as I did, probably the 11.45 running a little late. I hopped aboard anyway, paid my 16 euro return and settled in for the 60 minute ride to the airport. So the next adventure begins.
Grabbed a coffee and danish at the airport at 12.45 and then waited for Mr H. His planned Aircoach from Belfast had been full when it came to his stop, so he’d had to get a Bus Eireann down. It ran a little later than the Aircoach, but he finally arrived at 13.50 and we proceeded straight away to the Norwegian Air check-in. The Norwegian airlines check-in was in Terminal 2, however, when we checked in our bags they told us we would board in Terminal 1. It wasn’t a long walk and all under cover so it wasn’t a big deal.
When we got to gate 306, it was clear our flight wasn’t leaving from 306, but had been changed to 301. We boarded and left on time anyway.
An uneventful 2 hour flight saw us arrive in Oslo 3 hours later, due to the time difference. Oslo airport was typically Scandinavian - efficient, clean, organised, quiet, calm, wooden, minimalistic and…… expensive. Everything was well signposted and the staff we encountered very helpful and polite.
Mr H’s bags were going straight through to Tromso, but, due to ticketing arrangements, I had to collect mine and re check them in.
Easy enough, then through security and coffee – only one, at 30 Kroner (Norway doesn’t use euros) which is $5 Aus for a very small machine coffee.
Our flight had a 20 minute delay so it was a quarter to ten before we took off. Still broad daylight of course, although the sun wasn’t really visible.
We landed in Tromso, north of the Arctic circle at 23.30, got our bags and then waited in the queue for a taxi to our Air BnB for the first night. (Saw a Western Jackdaw at the airport as our first Norwegian bird) It was really weird – being broad daylight at midnight - kind of hard to get your head around, but once we got to the Air BnB, made our beds and lay down we crashed despite the light.
Norway List – 1
Day 2 – Monday 24.6.19
Up by 8, had a very basic breakfast then walked down to the center of town to a large hotel on the waterfront where we got on a bus back to the airport to pick up our hire car. Heaps of Common & European Herring Gulls with the odd Great Black-backed Gull. A Red-throated Diver flew overhead while we waited for the bus.
Picked up the car from Europcar – which I would have avoided after my January experience, but Himself had booked - and headed off to the nearest supermarket place to stock up on food and gas cylinders. Then back to the AirBnB to collect our bags and head north. We were on the road by eleven.
We drove most of the day noting birds along the way. During the ‘drive’ we used two car ferries to cross two fjords, instead of driving all the way round – and it was a nicer way to go. The scenery was quite spectacular – and in fact was the most dramatic scenery we were to see in Norway.
At the first ferry point we had to wait an hour or so and in the estuary beside the road we had 3 Arctic Skuas, Common Eiders, Common Goosanders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Arctic Terns and the ever-present Common, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Eurasian Oystercatchers and Common Redshanks.
Birding off the ferries, as you do, we saw Common Guillemots, Black Guillemots, Razorbills and one flock of 8 Atlantic Puffins.
At one random roadside stop – for the necessary ablutions and cigarette – we heard several Redwings singing and an all dark Lemming sp ran across the forest track in front of us – we believe it was a Wood Lemming Myopus schisticolor.
At one point we stopped for a Golden Eagle – the only one of the trip – and shortly afterwards two Common Buzzards. We didn’t expect them here, the range maps don’t show them as being along the coast, but it was a good view and they were definitely Common and not Rough-legged. This difference was to become clearer to us in subsequent days.
Mr H spotted a Short-eared Owl in a field beside the road, but as I was driving I missed it - we didn’t stop, expecting to see more along the way….. we had better.
We drove about 220 kms and then decided to find a camp site, which we did at the head of a fjord beside a river with a nice view.
We set up and went for a walk – or a ‘dander’ as Mr H put it.
Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank (in breeding plumage of course), Common Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers, Sedge Warbler seen and Garden Warbler heard, Great Tits and a Pied Flycatcher. We had dinner, then went for a short drive up a nearby mountain road without any success. Crashed by 9.
Norway List – 42
Day 3 – Tuesday 25.6.19
We were up, fed and away by 7.45. Cool morning, rain showers and windy – as it was to be most of the rest of the trip. Mr H started driving – until 11 – when we stopped to look for Geese at a reserve along a fjord. We had very distant Grey Lag Geese (some with goslings) and a small flock of Bean Geese (not sure if they were Taiga or Tundra as both co-exist and sometime interbreed), but none of the hoped for Lesser White-fronts - we were probably a little late for them.
We were driving across a tundra area when Mr H spotted a single Red-necked Phalarope in a roadside pond. We got crippling views and I managed to get some video but the light was pretty shit, grey and overcast, again, as it was to be for most of the rest of the trip. It was, surprising to me, a lifer for him. I’ve only seen one before – in Australia – in winter plumage. This female was a little beauty, whirling away unconcernedly in her cold, arctic pond.
Heading on we arrived at a fjord with steep cliffs set back along the roadside – a large raptor flew up and we, immediately, recognized it as our first Rough-legged Buzzard. Really distinct from Common leaving us in no doubt about yesterday’s birds. (Mr H had seen them before in Canada as Rough-legged Hawks and I had seen one in the UK). Had great flight and soaring views overhead as it flew along the cliff face to a nest site. We moved down the road for better views, but it had departed before we got there. During the day we were to see another 7 birds along the road.
We continued on with me driving until 5pm stopping occasionally, where appropriate, picking up stuff like Slavonian Grebes, Common Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Smew, Common Raven etc.
We reached Tana Bru around 16.30, filled up with fuel and coffee then headed down along Tana Fjorden to check the cliffs for Gyrfalcon. We saw a couple more Rough-legged Buzzards but no falcon. We’d driven 500 ks or so, so decided it was time to stop.
It’s possible to rough camp anywhere in Norway. The difficult is in finding a flat, dry spot. It’s either very boggy or bare rock and stony ground, but below the cliffs beside the estuary we found a spot and set up camp in a grassy dell surrounded by birch trees. As we did the European Herring Gulls on the cliffs set up a clamour and we spotted a Peregrine Falcon (definitely NOT a Gyr), soaring overhead – again the only one we would see on the trip.
We had dinner, then Mr H, while taking photos of flowers, 10 meters away from me, flushed a Bluetail. It flew across a stretch of water and disappeared into undergrowth. We sat and watched the area for 30 minutes but it didn’t re-appear. He’d seen them before, I hadn’t, so hopefully we’ll pick up more along the way.
We crashed around 21.00.
Norway List – 62 New European – 1
Day 4 – Wednesday 26.6.19
Mr H woke me, a little unexpectedly, at 4.30 after a poor night’s sleep and we ate, broke camp and hit the road again by 5.45.
Out along the fjord towards Berlevag we stopped at various sites in the tundra. Exposed, rocky, boggy, windy, scattered (small) lakes, cold. The birds were few in number, but, amazingly, once one started to walk across the land good things started to appear – apparently out of nowhere.
Our first stop at a nearby estuary, we had 5 White-tailed Eagles harassing a small Harbour Seal pup that seemed to be injured in some way. There were a large number of adult seals lounging on the sand bars of the estuary nearby. We also found a Eurasian Oystercatcher’s nest right beside the track.
Before we reached the higher ground we found a sidetrack through the small willow and birch scrub and thought it might be worth a look. There were several holiday homes along the track but they all seemed to be deserted. Anyway, we pulled up and Mr H started hearing Redpolls straight away.
Eventually, after a hard bit of birding – Redpolls are difficult to pin down – we had good views of a definite Arctic Redpoll and a group of 4 more that were more elusive, but almost definitely the same species. There were a number of Common Redpolls to compare with. There was no chance of photographs despite the birds being fairly close, they were just too flighty.
Our next stop, on the tundra itself, we had a nice Red-throated Diver in a small lake – close views as it swam up and down.
We walked out onto the tundra at this point and found Lapland Buntings, European Golden Plover, and Northern Wheatears. Not many of each but they were pretty confiding and one thing about a small number of birds is you really concentrate on enjoying them! They were all in full breeding plumage too, so looked extra smart. We flushed several Pipits but were confident they were Meadow Pipits, not something more exotic.
At another stop we had Tufted Ducks, 3 Long-tailed Ducks, 2 Greater Scaup and a couple of Red-necked Phalaropes in roadside ponds.
We had just started again after that when we found our first Long-tailed Skua washing in a small pool within 5 meters of the road. It very calmly flew up to a nearby ridge and stood preening while we watched from the car. Beautiful!
We drove out along the peninsula ending up at a lighthouse at Kjolnes where we sat, had lunch and seawatched the Arctic Ocean for the first time. It was very benign, the sea was very calm and, although it was cold in the wind, in the weak sun it was pleasant. There were Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas, thousands, literally, of European Herring Gulls, Common and Great-black-backed Gulls, dozens of Black Guillemots, hundreds of Red-breasted Mergansers and thousands of Common Goosanders. The latter two species seemed to be flightless, maybe they were in moult, but there were just so many all swimming around together in massive flocks – an amazing sight. Common Guillemots, Razorbills and a few Atlantic Puffins flew past and we saw the only Great Skua or Bonxie of the trip. At one point a White-tailed Eagle made a lazy, casual appearance and all the gulls rose as one – phenomenal.
We headed back and turned off another road towards Batsfjord, but only for a few ks, then parked up and walked the tundra looking for Ptarmigan and/or Snowy Owl.
It was pretty bleak, the wind not strong, but just continual, cold, but not freezing, rain spotting, the landscape rocky and hard. We found a pair of Shore Larks, briefly, two excellent pairs of Snow Buntings beside patches of snow and, once again, got great views. More European Golden Plover and on one soak of snow melt - where the ground was obviously softer and boggy and it was a little sheltered from the wind – half a dozen Dunlin, 2 Ringed Plover, 1 Ruddy Turnstone and a Stint sp that evacuated the area before we got to grips with it. Most likely Temminck’s but might have been Little. No Ptarmigan or Owl.
Back at the car we were feeling pretty knackered, but decided to try a side track that headed off over the tundra, it was drivable so it made it a lot easier physically.
We had got about 2 ks along the rough track when Mr H said ‘stop and check this out’. About 250 meters away, a shape suggested something good – and it was. A female Eurasian Dotterel. One of my target birds. We scoped it and watched it for a while, then I thought I’d give it a go and see how far I got.
After crouch-walking 200 meters, crawling on hands and knees 50 meters and belly crawling another 20, I ended up very close. It was just spectacular and I enjoyed her immensely.
We were properly ‘done’ now so drove the 90 ks back to Tana Bru bought some more groceries, filled up with fuel again and drove another 20 ks to an official campsite.
We set up camp, cooked dinner in the campsite kitchen, had beautiful hot showers and saw our second (my trip-first) Short-eared Owl hunting over the grassland and estuary beside the campsite. It was to become a feature of our stay there.
Norway List – 87 New European – 2 Lifer - 2
Day 5 – Thursday 27.6.19
We had now reached our destination – Varangerfjord. It was actually a lot less dramatic than I had imagined. It looked more like Co Donegal than somewhere in Norway with rounded slopes set well back from the fjord waters and lusty, green fields along the roadside.
Our first stop of the morning was at a small village, Nesseby, on the shoreline with a church on a peninsula behind which was a fresh water pond that might be ‘teeming with Phalaropes’. It wasn’t. There were only two Herring Gulls and a Meadow Pipit. Just offshore and along the sandy foreshore were Common Eiders, Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Lag Geese.
We headed on out to the peninsula. Our second planned stop – another village, Vadso, with an island offshore connected by a bridge. The left hand end of the island was a reserve that we walked through.
We did find a pool ‘teeming with Phalaropes’ here, 28 of them, and walked the rough ground looking for Red-throated Pipit and finding only Meadow Pipits galore. At one point we came across 5 Ruffs sporting different coloured ruffs – they were pretty cool looking – a white one, a black one and a ginger one.
Near the Birder’s Hotel – their name, not ours – we walked a dry patch of waste ground, once again, no RT Pipits but a number of Mountain Hares self-herded ahead of us into a car park.
We were looking for a seabird colony – there was one on an island off Vardo at the end of the peninsula but we thought maybe we’d find one on the way? So we turned off at Ekkerray and walked half a k across bog and ankle deep heather stuff to the cliff where there was supposed to be a colony – to find no sign of one at all, at all. It didn’t look like there had been anything there for a number of years…so we trudged back to the car and moved on.
We had targeted our arrival at the end of the peninsula at Vardo, reached from the mainland via a tunnel, to coincide with a boat trip to a seabird colony on another island 10 minutes offshore at 11.30. We got there just after 11, to find the boat just returning and the next trip now scheduled for 12.
We hung out, saw a few Common Terns and the first Barn Swallow of the trip, paid the 400 Kroner ($66 Aus) each and then headed out at 12.
A full-on seabird colony greeted us on arrival, thousands and thousands of birds and the accompanying guano smell. We were restricted to a narrow section at the bottom of the cliffs but the view, noise and movement was incredible. Thousands of Common Guillemots, hundreds of them of the Bridled form, Razorbills, Atlantic Puffins and Black-legged Kittiwakes flew around, stood on and argued over the narrow ledges and European Shags occupied nests literally at our feet, clacking their bills if we came too close.
We scanned the cliffs and found our target – a group of Brunnich’s Guillemots. Eventually we saw about 100 scattered across the cliffs in little groups. When seen close up and in close proximity to Common Guillemots the differences were clear.
The only birds, apart from the Shags at our feet, that seemed to be breeding were the Kittiwakes – and even they didn’t seem too focused. We did find a few semi-demolished Auk eggs on the ground – showing recent predation – but there were few if any on the ledges above. The birds still seemed to be deciding on nest locations and there was little evidence of mating or nest preparation.
The Atlantic Puffins stole the show for me really. Getting this close (3 meters?) to these stunning little birds was a real pleasure.
We were on the island for 3 hours – much longer than we had planned, but the boat was ‘busy’ so we didn’t have a lot of choice. 90 minutes would have been adequate, luckily Mr H had thought ahead and brought lunch stuff so we ate while we watched and were watched while we ate.
Back on the mainland again I was in dire need of a coffee, but we couldn’t find any open coffee shops – it was a bit of a dead end port town. Ended up getting a crap coffee at a service station with a lazy, smartass girl behind the counter, then we headed out to try to find some tundra to walk across – still hoping for the Pipit, the Ptarmigan or the Owl.
We took the road to Hamnimberg around the top of the peninsula and turned off a stony track up to a quarry where we had to abandon the car and proceed on foot. In the distance I spotted an Owl. It was a Short-eared Owl which we confirmed after a further kilometer walk up this track. Then we spotted Skuas on a flat area on the other side of a wide, shallow stream and decided to head that way. We stayed dry across the creek and scrambled up onto the plateau. European Golden Plovers called and flew around agitated, a Ruddy Turnstone (weird to see them on dry land) and another pair of Lapland Buntings.
Moving on I approached a couple of standing Long-tailed Skuas. They did look like they were nesting but there was no evidence and they weren’t stressed by our presence. One of them sat tight as I walked towards it and, when I stopped, it walked towards me which gave me a great opportunity to film it. Absolutely stunning birds. We walked back to the car without further excitement – apart from re-crossing the river which we both accomplished, more or less dry-footed. We were a bit stuffed by now, so I drove the 120 ks back to our campsite of the night before - it was easy, we didn’t see anywhere else along the way and the showers were excellent. We saw the Short-eared Owl doing its rounds before we crashed.
Norway List – 92 New European – 2 Lifer - 3
Day 6 – Friday 28.6.19
I got up just after 6 feeling pretty good. Mr H slumbered on until 8 – obviously needing the sleep. It had been pretty tiring and the lack of darkness was…….weird, even though we slept well, I don’t think we were sleeping very deeply? Or maybe its just cause we’re old farts, I don’t know. Anyway, I had a lovely hot shower and shave and several coffees while I waited to have breakfast with The Man when he eventually dragged his sorry ass outta his tent.
We broke camp and were on the road just after 9. We had reviewed our position and decided there wasn’t much else for us to do on the Varangerfjord. One option was to drive back to the other side of the peninsula and try the tundra back there again, but we had limited time now, so decided we’d have to just write off the ‘Tundra birds’ (Ptarmigan and Snowy Owl) and move on to different pastures.
We kept hoping to see some accessible tundra along the way but we weren’t optimistic having reviewed the road on Google Earth. We didn’t, as it turned out, but it was a nice drive with some good scenery along the way.
Mr H had read a reference to a location for Arctic Warbler behind a church (is this a Norwegian thing or what?) in a small village called Nyden. So we stopped off there, found the church and eventually, at the end of the cemetery, heard an Arctic Warbler singing. For the life of us we couldn’t see the thing in the leafy willows, at about 50 meters range – though even I could hear it singing – but it did fly out and away providing us with a visible tickline. Although neither of us ‘needed’ it as a lifer, it was a good addition to my European List.
We headed on, reaching the town we had been talking about for 6 months – Kerkenes (pronounced Cur-kin-S) – around 11.30, the last major town before the Russian border, some of the signs included Russian translations.
We stocked up on food and fuel and headed down into a part of Norway that, strangely, runs down between Finland and Russia for almost 100 kms, ending in the Ovre Pavsik National Park. The road was incredibly twisted and warped in places, creating a bumpy, jerky ride, sometimes as slow as 60 k/hr just to avoid putting your head through the roof or ripping the car apart.
Anyway we reached the end safely and parked up at the start of an advertised 20 km dirt road. We walked in a few hundred meters but it was all very quiet. I mean dead quiet. I mean almost nothing at all – apart from the ubiquitous singing Willow Warblers and occasional calling Brambling. Mr H suggested I play Siberian Tit and within a minute or two we had one respond well, providing opportunities for excellent views and photos – although the light was a bit low. Just the one bird but that was enough and we felt really pleased with ourselves at being such great birders.
Walking a bit further we found a pair of breeding Yellow Wagtails – weird seeing THEM in a forest - and then met a Norwegian birder passing in a car who gave us some info on the local birding scene, which was very helpful.
We walked back to the car and headed for a campsite 10 ks back up the road. As we checked in a pair of Siberian Tits fluttered around the feeder and the nearby trees making us feel a little less pleased with how smart we were….. We set up camp and discussed our options.
We decided we would go to bed now @ 18.30 – sleep till 21.30, get up, have dinner and then go looking for Bears and Owls. The national park was, reputedly, THE place to see Brown Bear in Norway and, according to the woman who owned the campsite, several had been seen recently at various points in the locale.
So we did that – sleeping fairly well for the three hours, waking hungry enough to eat, then heading off to drive the track through the forest. Of course it was still full daylight – well, a sort of dull daylight, not sunny, but nowhere near dark. Cutting a long story short we didn’t see any Bears. We did see 4 Elk standing and lying in a marsh at an open section of the track. We did have a Short-eared Owl over the road and trees, briefly. On the way back, on the bitumen road, we had a single Willow Grouse run along quite close on the road edge and a Northern Hawk Owl broke cover and flew away as we approached in the car. It seemed like a non-event, but I guess when you add 2 owl species, a large mammal and a game bird it wasn’t too bad. Mind you we’d have traded them all for just one Bear. Back at camp we crashed at 00.30, then got up at 3am because the Norwegian birder had said the birds were most active then. Yeah, devils for punishment!
Norway List – 99 New European – 3 Lifer - 4
Day 7 – Saturday 29.6.19
We woke to rain spattering the tents, heavier showers at times, and dragged ourselves out into the cold, damp, early morning. We just had coffee and set ourselves up in a mosquito proof tent thing that had a clear view of the feeder. Our target? Pine Grosbeak. The woman had told us they had been at the feeder half an hour before our arrival the day before so we were optimistic.
There were House Sparrows, European Siskins, Bramblings, Great Tits, European Greenfinches and the odd Common Chaffinch and Siberian Tit feeding despite the rain and we sat, hardly talking, making regular cups of coffee, just trying to stay warm.
At 5.00 Mr H trudged to his tent and went back to bed. I sat on till 6, with nothing happening apart from a brief flyover of a Merlin. Then I too went back to bed – to find my tent had leaked somehow – I think underflow had come through the floor. I dried it off as much as possible then crashed.
We were both up again at 10 – still raining - so we returned to the lookout point and sat again watching the bloody feeder. We sat till 15.30. Now almost 12 hours watching this feeder, without result. The rain finally eased and then stopped and we decided we’d follow up at another location for Pine Grosbeak the birder yesterday had described. It was a relatively hard decision to make. We had invested so much in this bird we were almost afraid to leave this site, afraid that as soon as we drove off the bird would appear. The bird had become our reason for living. Our sole target. A desperate need now. Akin to a heroin addict looking for a fix. It had become dominant over sleeping, eating – well, almost, Mr H never went hungry for long…..
Anyway, we bit the bullet and drove back towards Kerkenes, along the buckled road, for 48 kms to a place that provided cabin accommodation and huskies in the winter season. The guy there charged us 50 Kroner to ‘look around’ and 50 Kroner more for two coffees.
We set up and sat watching two feeders. Plenty of Siskins, Sparrows and Greenfinches and a pair of European Bullfinches. A small Red Squirrel stopped briefly to nibble on some fallen seed then disappeared. A Eurasian Sparrowhawk put in a couple of appearances – possibly nesting in a nearby tree - but 40 minutes and no PG.
I was getting cold so walked back to the car to get my jacket. As I returned Mr H quietly called and told me there was a male Pine Grosbeak feeding on the ground in front of him. I thought he was taking the piss, of course, and called him on it, but no, he was serious. I moved forward quietly and then I too could see the bird. Wow!! A big bright red finch – as Grosbeaks generally are – stuffing its face with seed a mere 3 meters or so away. It stayed for a few minutes then took off voluntarily and disappeared. We both breathed a sigh of relief I think. The guy at this site had mentioned another location ‘just up the road’ so we got directions and headed off there. It turned out to be 3 ks up the road and a further 12 ks along a pitted, potholed track to a lonely cabin in the forest with…..another feeder. However, our efforts were rewarded as within a couple of minutes another male Pine Grosbeak flew in and spent quite a while feeding from the feeder. He went off and a female arrived providing excellent full body views – also on the feeder.
We drove back to camp, had dinner and I talked Mr H into going out again on a bear hunt. We were out from 21.30 till just after 23.00 but saw nothing of real significance apart from a couple of Common Cranes beside the lake and a Wood Sandpiper and heard a Common Cuckoo. We crashed at 23.30.
Norway List – 109 New European – 3 Lifer - 5
Day 8 – Sunday 30.6.19
We got up again at 5, had breakfast and went woodpecker hunting. It was a nice morning, clear, cold, sunny. We had been given a rough guide to a location where a Three-toed Woodpecker had been seen recently and this, like the Pine Grosbeak, was a bird we had looked for in Finland without success.
We drove down the dirt forest track to the Noatun area from where we could see Russia just the other side of the lake. We parked and walked and walked and parked at several points along the track but the only birds we saw were, literally, 3 Siberian Jays that came out of the forest to have a look at us. They really are a cute bird and very confiding. You just can’t help taking photos of them. The trees in the forest were fairly short (20-30 feet) pines in a, seemingly, endless forest. Typically Taiga and difficult to imagine the same scene going on all across northern Russia for endless miles. An incredible thought.
When we returned to the car another car of three (German) birders had just shown up and we chatted to them for a few minutes. It was a partial relief to me when one of them said he’d been in the Varangenfjord area 4 times and not seen Snowy Owl. It was still irking me that we’d dipped – it had been a very high target species and I had felt very optimistic.
Back at camp we packed up and headed back to Kerkenes. Along the way we saw our first Norwegian Common Wood Pigeons! We also had our second Fox. This one pounced on something in the roadside grass, then jumped the fence and stood in the field briefly watching us watching it. We were pretty sure it was an Arctic Fox – the legs looked too short and it was a smaller size than the familiar Red Fox. It was also quite pale and just looked different.
We arrived in Kerkenes at 11.30 and picked up Mr H’s son, Jack, from the airport. I was leaving them the next day and they were going to spend the next 4 days driving back to Tromso.
We drove out the eastern side of the fjord towards Jakobsnes and found a rough campsite among the low birches overlooking the fjord. It was a very comfy campsite with the tents perched on the low, sweet-smelling, heather-like ground cover. We decided to walk up a nearby mountain track on the on-going search for Red-throated Pipit.
Everyone we’d met said they’d seen them – ‘they were everywhere’ apparently. We had searched really, really hard and seen nothing but heaps of Meadow Pipits – each and every one visibly identified as a Meadow despite the difference in call and song, heard for the most part as well. No one had been able to define the specific environment and the book was a little generic in its description. So we pounded up hill, not too steep, across wooden boardwalked boggy ground, over open rock, through tussocky grass, past acres of what seemed to us to be perfect habo, but no RTPs. We did have a pair of Bluethroats though, which made me very happy. Crippling views of both parents carrying food for young and, as a result, a nest found! Brilliant! After missing the only one that Mr H had seen I had more or less given it away, but here they were – and what a stunner.
We stopped at the top of a hillside and sat for a while, then headed back down to camp. We were a little short of food for dinner due to the supermarkets being closed on Sunday so I suggested we go for a meal instead.
Unfortunately, the only restaurant open in Kerkenes on a Sunday night was a Chinese so we had come all the way to the extreme north of Europe to have a Chinese meal, go figure. However, it was a good meal and the waiter was quite amusing – mind you he needed to be. We had three small starters, 3 average mains, 3 beers and one coffee and it was 108 Kroner or $180 Aus. The food was nice and good quality Chinese, but at that price? Wow. Back to camp in a slight haze and we crashed for my final night in Norway.
Norway List – 111 New European – 3 Lifer - 6
Day 9 – Monday 1.7.19
Mr H and I were up at 6 and drove down to the end of the dirt road to walk a track over more RTP habitat. We woke up 30 or 40 Huskies in their kennels beside the track and started them all howling and yapping as we passed by.
We walked across more perfect habo, about 2 ks I reckon, and back again without seeing any sign of our quarry. We did see another male Bluethroat, 2 Common Redpolls, a Northern Wheatear and 2 Whooper Swans, 2 fly by Red-necked Phalaropes and a Red-throated Diver on a lake.
Back at camp we encouraged Jack to get up, had breakfast and packed up the camp, while I packed up my bag. Then we drove to a couple of spots around Kerkenes itself where we had found previous reports of the bloody RTP on E-bird. It was becoming a mission. A necessity. A fantasy maybe? And so it continued to be. No sign anywhere of anything but Meadow Pipits. We did have a last addition to our trip list – a Temminck’s Stint - in a shallow estuary, that gave us enough time to ascertain ID before flying off into the morning. A last addition to my European list.
We went to the airport and I checked my bag and waited with coffee and the boys as they wanted to add Jack to the rental agreement to share the drive back to Tromso over the coming 4 days.
Eventually I said goodbye and went through security and at 12.00 my plane took off for the 100 minute flight to Oslo.
I had a four and a half hour wait in Oslo that turned into 5 when the plane was delayed leaving, but leave it did (@ 19.00) and I arrived back in Dublin at 20.45. I got the Aircoach home and carried my bags the last 500 meters to my Mum’s place.
Norway List – 112 New European – 4 Lifer - 6
Summary: A lot of work for 6 lifers and 112 species? Yeah, probably – quite a lot of expense too, Norway is NOT cheap. Obviously retaining their own currency (not using the Euro) has contributed to a higher value lifestyle. However, seeing Long-tailed Skuas, Red-necked Phalaropes, Red-throated Divers, Snow Buntings and European Golden Plovers in full breeding plumage and having the experience of close up Eurasian Dotterel, Lapland Buntings etc are memories that will last me the rest of my life. I was disappointed by the lack of Snowy Owl, as I mentioned I had felt pretty confident, but that’s birding I guess. I console myself (or possibly fool myself) with the fact that ‘it’s an experience I am still to have’.
So we recorded 112 bird species and 8 Mammals. No butterflies, reptiles or amphibians.
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